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March 20, 2013: The Streams of Maryland
Held annually on March 22, the United Nation’s World Water Day brings attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Globally, freshwater accessibility is critical for the survival of all living things, yet it is a significantly threatened resource. In Maryland, our own freshwater streams and rivers need our help as they run to the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay.
Even if you don’t live on the water, the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which encompasses more than 64,000 square miles to six states and the District of Columbia, affects each of us every day. More than 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers weave through the Chesapeake’s vast watershed. In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we all live within 15 minutes of a stream, making freshwater health not just a Maryland issue, but a backyard issue as well!
Healthy streams are organically balanced, with enough oxygen to support life. Decaying plants and animal waste provide a balanced amount of nutrients, and the water is not too acid or too alkaline. In these healthy streams, runoff is kept to a minimum, and chemicals from farms, factories, and residential areas do not make their way into the stream. Countless species rely on healthy freshwater ecosystems to thrive. Fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, invertebrates…DNR states that Maryland is home to more than 100 species of fish, 20 species of salamander, and 10 species of turtle, just to name a few stream-dwellers.
In a recent assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just 45 percent of sampled streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were rated fair, good, or excellent. As outlined in the EPA’s Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the goal is to improve the health of the watershed so that 70 percent of sampled streams measure fair or better by 2025.
To help increase our understanding of stream health, DNR coordinates a team of volunteers who collect important stream quality data across the state. This program, called Stream Waders, is the volunteer component of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey. The use of these volunteers allows more streams to be sampled, giving a big-picture view of Maryland’s waterways. Volunteers participate in a one-day training session, then spend a couple days in March or April collecting aquatic invertebrate samples from stream beds.
The study of aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies, is instrumental in the analysis of streams. Because invertebrates vary in their sensitivity to pollutants, a healthy stream has both sensitive and tolerant invertebrate species while an unhealthy one would have only pollution-tolerant species. Ultimately, the Stream Waders data is used in DNR reports and is available for review on their website.
In our daily lives, each of us can take steps to help keep our community streams healthy. Take a walk along a nearby stream and properly dispose of trash you find along its banks. Limit pesticide use in your yard so that it doesn’t make its way into freshwater supplies. Many local organizations host stream cleanups or wetland restoration events, so volunteer your time. Even just one day a year can make a real difference to a stream in your community.
Take action to keep our streams today by joining our Conservation team at one of our upcoming cleanups!